Book review: Metacommunity Ecology by Leibold & Chase (2018) – linking biogeography with community ecology

The post provided by Borja Jiménez-Alfaro

Travelling with the family may also be a good time to read this book. Here in the Camargue Biosphere Reserve (France), a biogeographical hub for ecological communities in Europe. Photo credit: Borja Jiménez-Alfaro

In the last years, I have been looking at different views for understanding the spatial patterns of plant communities. Exploring the scientific literature is quite a difficult task, given the disparate views, theories and case studies found out there. The metacommunity approach looked like just another view to see how communities are influenced by e.g. niche selection or dispersal. But in their new book, Leibold & Chase (2018) present metacommunity ecology as a conceptual hub for synthetic ecology. They review an amazing amount of references to demonstrate how metacommunity ecology might help in linking biogeography with community ecology (and evolution, food webs or ecosystem functioning). It seems that they did the dirty work for many of us (thanks!) making this book an essential source of inspiration for the JVS-AVS community in the coming years.

The book is rooted in four archetypes that have been the focus of metacommunity ecology in the last years: patch dynamics (PD), species sorting (SS), neutral theory (NT) and mass effects (ME), although the authors also recognize that this approach could be “naïve” or “inadequate”. At this point, it is inevitable to compare their work with the book of Vellend (2016) on the high-level processes of community ecology (speciation, dispersal, drift, and selection). I would have preferred Leibold and Chase to focus on the processes rather than on the archetypes (although the processes are often implicit), but the aim of the book is to summarize what has been done in metacommunity ecology, and using the archetypes is probably a good framework for presenting different topics with a similar point of view.

In my daily work, what I appreciate most about this book is the logical structure through three blocks and 14 well-defined chapters. When I read the whole book for the first time (while in family holidays) I saturated my head by ideas, so after the first surfeit, I needed to go back to each one of the chapters separately. Some chapters seem to be less comprehensive than others, and the description of research methods is probably biased toward the favorite topics of the authors (albeit this is not a methodological book). This is however balanced by a large number of figures and tables reproducing the results of previous studies, which makes the original sources easy to track back.

Overall, I see this book as a compendium of the state-of-the-art of community ecology under a spatiotemporal perspective. I appreciate how the authors revisit the seminal works about island biogeography and community assembly and how they aboard scaling issues. While recognizing the great value of trait-based approaches in metacommunity ecology, Leibold and Chase also remark that we should not ignore taxonomic patterns and the role of individual species in essential processes regulating the spatial variation of communities. They make this point in the context of the scale-dependence of metacommunities, which may be highly appreciated for those who are interested in comparing taxonomical, functional and phylogenetic diversity. In the conclusions, the authors advocate for using the principles of metacommunity ecology in applied ecology and conservation, which is something we all should think about.


  • Vellend, M. (2016). The Theory of Ecological Communities. Monographs in Population Biology, vol. 57. Princeton University Press.
  • Leibold, M.A. & Chase, J.M. (2018). Metacommunity Ecology. Monographs in Population Biology, vol. 59. Princeton University Press.

Borja Jiménez-Alfaro works at the Research Unit of Biodiversity of the Spanish Research Council and the University of Oviedo (CSIC/PA/UO). He is broadly interested in vegetation ecology, with a special focus on the interface between plant community diversity and biogeography.